The Crimson Tide basketball team will play its most anticipated game of the year to date when the Kentucky Wildcats visit tonight for a big SEC showdown in Coleman Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 8:00 CT, with the game being televised nationally in primetime on ESPN.
For our game preview today, we're going to feature a Q&A from our friends over at the excellent Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue.
UPDATE: My responses to their questions are up over at A Sea of Blue.
RBR: How does this year's Kentucky team compare to last year's squad that won the SEC Championship and reached the NCAA Elite Eight?
ASoB: This team is better in some ways, worse in others. Last year's team was a dominant rebounding and inside scoring team with a ton of quality depth that couldn't shoot straight outside of ten feet.
This year's team is one of the most dangerous perimeter shooting teams in the nation with very limited quality depth that can run with anybody and has trouble scoring inside the paint.
I think this year's team is more vulnerable to a bad game than 2009-10, but has just as high a ceiling. Guard play is disproportionately important in tournaments, and nobody has better guards than Kentucky.
RBR: Break down this year's Kentucky roster for us from a personnel standpoint.
ASoB: Freshman Brandon Knight will start at the one. He is not a true point guard, but rather a lead guard who is learning how to run the team. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller man the two and three spots (take your pick as to who is which, I don't even know), and both are juniors who can score off the bounce, shoot the three, and defend.
Depending on Calipari's mood, freshman Terrence Jones man's the four spot and Josh Harrellson the five. Or, freshman Doron Lamb will start at the two and Liggins/Miller split the four spot. Either Lamb or Jones will be the sixth man depending on who Cal starts, and both are instant offense, although from different angles -- Jones more inside, Lamb from outside.
Lately, junior Eloy Vargas has been the seventh guy up, and sophomore Jon Hood the eighth. Vargas is an inside player, and Hood is a wing.
RBR: What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of this Kentucky team?
ASoB: Strengths: shooting, passing, ballhandling and defense. This is the second best ballhandling team in the league (only 0.1% turnover rate behind Florida), scores the third most points per possession, is the second best defensively (only .01 points per possession behind the Crimson Tide), and are holding opponents to 20.5% from the arc and 34% from the field. Kentucky assists on 52% of their field goals (all stats in league).
Weaknesses: Free throw rate, which used to be a strength, is lately a weakness. Getting to the line is the most efficient way to score, and UK isn't doing that well lately. Kentucky is also not a good shot-blocking team, and hasn't been good at forcing turnovers against better teams.
RBR: What does Bama have to do to pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa?
ASoB: 1) shoot a high percentage. The only teams that have been able to beat Kentucky this year have been teams shooting >45% eFG% (effective field goal percentage) with the exception of North Carolina, which was a foul-fest against UK.
2) get into UK's bench. Beyond Lamb or Jones, Kentucky has a very weak bench and does not go more than eight deep.
3) pray for UK to miss from the perimeter, because if they don't shoot under 40% from 3, you cannot win unless you foul out a bunch of players or shoot 55%+ eFG% from the field. UK has not met a defense yet that can deny them open shots from the perimeter, and they make them at a very high rate. Against UGA, for example, UK shot only 6-20, their second-lowest output of the season
RBR: What is your prediction for the game?
ASoB: I predict Alabama will hold UK under 75 points, but will lose 73-68.